Chinese Urban Dictionary: Renshe

By Mia Li, April 18, 2019

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renshe / rén shè / 人设 n. a social media persona we design for ourselves, maintain and cultivate

A: Try this cotton candy. It’s so delicious!

B: I can’t be seen eating cotton candy. It’d break my renshe.

A: What is your renshe exactly?

B: A mysterious and always pensive tough guy.

A: Okay, do you want to take some home and eat it when no one’s watching?

B: Yes, thank you.

There are a few opportunities in life where you can completely re-invent yourself: starting at a new school, the beginning of a career at a new company, or when you move to a new country. However, social media is a different story. You can start a new online persona anytime! 

Think back on the first time you posted on your WeChat Moments. You said to yourself: “I shall only post photos where I’m living my best life!” You went through your camera roll, selected photos in line with who you envision your WeChat self to be and posted those. 

That person you see yourself as on social media is called renshe, which means “character design.” It is partly you, partly fiction. It is life, but elevated. It has everything you approve of yourself, and nothing you disapprove of. It is the you who eats gluten-free avocado toast, but not the you who has skipped gym for the third time this month already. It is the you who takes a surfing trip to Thailand, but not the you who works overtime for five days a week. It is the you who takes a hot date to a trendy restaurant, not the you who binge watches TV shows with bags of potato chips. 

The problem is, we also see other people’s renshe and often forget that it’s partially fiction. On WeChat Moments, we see someone sipping a cocktail at a swanky bar and we think that’s what they do every day after work. We see someone working out in the gym and think they never skip leg day. We see other people’s selfies with immaculate makeup and think that’s how they look all the time. 

Even stars and celebrities have renshe they work hard to maintain. Some are the handsome loyal loving husbands, while others are the mysterious and unpredictable ladies’ men. Once in a while, by pure accident, we get to see the real version of these people, without the filters of social media, and feel jolted by reality. The loving husband has his dalliances and the ladies’ man might yearn for stable relationships. “Their renshe is broken!” we lament. 

Those good at social media never break their renshe. They tailor their content to be 100 percent in line with it and become one with their renshe

The question is, when you become your online self, where do you put your real self?


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